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Having your tarot cards read can conjure images of white-haired women in head scarfs with crystal balls, but there’s more to tarot than mystics and witchery. Perhaps one of the most common misconceptions about tarot readings is that they’re meant to give a blueprint for your future—more like a Magic 8 Ball than a tool to delve deeper into your present psyche. In fact, tarot readings are better understood as a way to examine the forces at play in your current situation, and to provide insight into things in your life you could work on or change to achieve your desires or goals.
Tarot decks were originally—and in some countries still—used for regular card games. The earliest known example of the deck being used for divination (cartomancy) is thought to be by Jean-Baptiste Alliette, or “Etteilla,” in 1770. In 1781, Antoine Court de Gébelin, ascribed mystical wisdom to the Trump cards, the origin of which he credited to Ancient Egypt—particularly to the Egyptian God of inspired written knowledge, Thoth. When the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799 nothing was uncovered to support this idea, though the belief endured.
Over the years, many different decks were developed for several uses in varying degrees of the occult. Most of these are still around today, alongside more popping up every year. This list is in no way exhaustive, but here are a few of our favorites if you’re ready to get started.
If you’re relatively new to tarot, this is probably the deck you picture when you think of tarot. Comprised of the classic Minor and Major Arcana, this deck was first published in 1910 by mystic and academic A. E. Waite, and illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith. Smith, the niece of the great American painter Samuel Coleman, whose work would become synonymous with tarot in much of the English-speaking world, died without knowing the contribution she had made.
Outlined by English occultist and magician Aleister Crowley, the Thoth Deck (a nod in name to supposed Ancient Egyptian origins) was first published in 1969. It was another deck illustrated by a woman, Lady Frieda Harris, who worked closely with Crowley to draw and redraw the cards to Crowley’s specifications that blended ancient mysticism, science, and the occult.
The Wild Unknown
A relatively new take on ancient tarot, The Wild Unknown draws on ancient animal wisdom and spirit to portend both present and outline possibilities for the future. Written and illustrated by Kim Krans in 2012, the deck came out of The Wild Unknown collective Kim began to showcase her artwork and publications in 2007. The Wild Unknown has since expanded to be both an online and IRL community that brings together seekers, artists, and mystics.
The Enchanted Tarot
Conceived of by the same husband and wife team that brought the Zerner-Farber deck to life, The Enchanted Tarot is the brainchild of Amy Zerner and Monte Farber. It relies on the notion that whatever question you’re focusing on in that moment is what will be revealed in the cards. Readings do not need to be done in person; Zerner and Farber claim that online readings work just as well if you’re intention is the same.
The New Mythic Tarot
The classic New Mythic Tarot recently got a reboot, featuring the work of internationally-acclaimed artist Giovanni Caselli. The deck features goddesses, heroines, gods, and heroes, of Greek mythology, and readers of New Mythic Tarot spreads are encouraged to use these depictions are archetypes of explain patterns in modern everyday life.
Whatever type of tarot resonates with you, receiving or performing a reading can be a great way to dive deep into one’s own psyche, to explore the personality traits, patterns, and relationships that could use reevaluation. Just as no two decks are exactly the same, neither are two readings—even if the cards pulled are. You’ve got nothing to lose but your skepticism.